It is Ghana boxing time again. The sport in many ways, is Ghana’s second major sport – close to football than any other and the sport the country can boast the most titles. Titles, hall of famers, the sweet moments of victory; there have been many. It has truly put the country on the sporting map in the 20thcentury.
However, enthusiasm for the sport plummeted with new age boxers failing on several occasions to match the quality of older reputations set in torturing atmospheres. But one man is on a mission to change that.
On the 28th of April, the precocious Isaac Dogboe is set to take on WBO world super bantamweight champion, Jesse Magdaleno in Philadelphia. With both boxers unbeaten, it sets up for a tasty bout.
It’s been a while since a Ghanaian stood on the verge of a truly credible world title. Forget the many alphabet bodies, the World Boxing Organisation title as Dogboe himself says “is as big as it gets.” There is also excitement in his camp that this will be the beginning of something special with his father declaring that “we would see Azumah reborn.”
That will be quiet a journey but how did Azumah Nelson, Ike Quartey, D.K Poison, Joshua Clottey, among the most credible Ghanaians to have held world titles get there?
We chronicle their world title attempts and what lessons Dogboe can pick from them.
Azumah’s introduction to the world via his gloves and mouth
It was a journey that started with local admiration and led to worldwide fame, dominance and respect. Azumah’s achievements precede him. Ranked among the top 100 boxers in the world, the only African to be inducted in the boxing hall of fame and to many, the best boxer these shores has ever produced.
His first world title win came against Wilfredo Gomez in the WBC featherweight championship in 1984. He was relatively unknown. “They didn’t know who I was although I had won gold at the Commonwealth Games and had beaten so many boxers. So I had to go there and show them what I was made of,” he recalled.
It was Azumah’s first title but before that, his first ever shot at a world title was one that didn’t go according to plan. On 21stJuly 1982 he lost to then champion Salvador Sanchez who defeated him in the 15th round.
Azumah blamed it on the mouthpiece he used that day- claiming that the one he originally had went missing the day of the bout so he had to make do with another- a much bigger one which fit in his mouth because he cut bits of it off with a razor blade.
Azumah’s career straddled two lines. Two very parallel lines- victory and patriotism. He had a few losses but those were in the free way. Azumah holds the record as the only boxer to successfully defend his WBC super featherweight title 11 times – spanning a total of 2736 days.
Azumah resides in the upper echelons of boxing, his preeminence over his opponents was admirable and the niche Azumah carved for himself in the boxing world is a huge one- one that might never be toppled. A true great. Dogboe has quit an act to follow.
D.K Poison the pioneer
Azumah left indelible prints in the world of boxing but well before him, David Kotei lived. Known more popularly as DK Poison, Kotei was the first to send messages to the world about Ghana’s arrival on the big professional boxing stage after previously sounding the message at amateur level.
He was the first professional boxer to win a world title in Ghana. His was a reign that spanned 420 days and it began after he beat Ruben Olivares to win the WBC featherweight Championship – a title Azumah Nelson would later win in his career.
Prior to that fight in 1975, many boxing fans considered Olivares then as the greatest bantamweight of his era. Although daunting, Poison went in unfazed and won by a split point decision after 15 rounds. Poison successfully defended the title twice. He lost infamously in his third attempt in Accra against the tough hitting Danny “the Little Red” Lopez.
The Bazooka who shook the welterweight division
“I remember I fought one guy from Ghana. His name was Ike Quartey and I remember that I couldn’t get up for two weeks after the fight. The boy could hit.”
Those were the words of boxing hall of famer, Oscar De La Hoya in an interview last year. Those words summed up exactly what Quartey was made of in his heydays. Quartey’s jab was his most prized asset, he was considered one of the best hitters in the sport while in his prime.
Quartey was a fine boxer whose big break came against the Venezuelan Crisanto Espana in 1994. The Venezuelan was unbeaten in 30 fights efore face Quartey who floored with a flurry of punches in the 11thround after wearing him down throughout the bout. It was vintage Ike who took the WBA welterweight title at the first attempt.
Ike would go on to seal a reputation as a fine boxer but an inability to win some of his biggest fights against Venom Forrest and the Oscar De La Hoya left a blot.
In addition to Azumah, D.K Poison and Ike Quartey there was Nana Yaw Konadu and Joshua Clottey who lost his first world title attempt and won the next against Zab Judah.
Dogboe will be in good company whatever happens on Saturday night against Jesse Magdaleno. The key to how he will be remembered in Ghana boxing is how builds on from there.
By Yaw Ofosu Larbi (@theyawofosu on Twitter)
The writer is host of TV3 and 3FM’s Saturday sports show ‘Warm Up’.